Nothing makes your heart race faster than watching the dirty water in a toilet bowl start to rise instead of flushing down. So when your toilet has a clog that blocks proper flushing, you likely reach for the closest chemical handy – Drano.
Drano is a harsh chemical that’s renowned for its superior ability to unclog stopped up drains. So, can you use Drano in a toilet to treat clogs? According to Drano itself, no, you cannot! And we’re here to tell you all about why you shouldn’t. And what you should do instead.
If you’ve already made the mistake of pouring Drano into your toilet, we’ll talk about what steps you should take next to prevent damage to your toilet and plumbing system. Let’s get dirty.
What is Drano?
Drano is one of the oldest chemical clog cleaners on the market, with marketing ads dating back to the 1920s. There are multiple types of Drano, formulated for different situations by changing the ingredients combined with the basic lye-based formula.
You can find Drano containing sodium hydroxide (lye), sodium nitrate, sodium chloride (salt), sodium hypochlorite (bleach), and aluminum.
While it works fantabulous at treating clogged pipes in sinks and tubs, it won’t behave so well in toilets. This contradiction is because the scientific reaction from the chemicals is specific to the pipe structure of a sink drain. But it’s not conducive to the drain system of toilets, which can be harder for Drano to reach.
The specific chemical formula of Drano is also honed to treat common causes of clogged sinks – mainly hair and soap scum. The source of clogging in a toilet is typically human waste, toilet paper, wet wipes, or feminine products.
Can You Use Drano in a Toilet?
So, what’s the problem with using Drano in a toilet? Most toilets are porcelain with a porcelain trap. This s-shaped trap at the bottom of the toilet forms a siphoning effect that flushes waste down while allowing some water to stay in the bowl to prevent sewer gases from leaking out.
Once you pour Drano into the drain, the lye combines with aluminum shards to create an oxidizing chemical reaction that heats up (to almost boiling temperatures) to help the clog decompose faster.
These chemicals also cause bubbles and soap to make the clog lose enough to break free in sinks. But with toilets, this extreme heat can cause the porcelain to crack at the trap or the bowl, requiring a replacement of the entire commode.
Drano can also cause corrosion in metal pipes or softening of PVC (plastic) pipes. Then there are the potential physical risks to your health.
When there’s a clog in the toilet, and you pour Drano over it, the chemicals will sit on top of the blockage, where it will keep getting hotter. Using a plunger to remove the clog can cause splashback of the chemicals, leading to burning of the eyes or skin.
If Drano mixes with other chemicals (like if you clean your toilet with bleach), the ammonia can create a harmful toxic gas – chloramines. Symptoms of chloramine poisoning include eye irritation, difficulty breathing, and chest pain.
What to Do if You Put Drano in the Toilet?
If you’re reading this after you’ve already made the mistake of putting Drano in the toilet, don’t panic just yet.
Getting the clog to budge from the pipe so your toilet can resume normal function as quickly as possible is crucial to prevent damage to your toilet or home piping.
The first course of action is to try using a plunger to dislodge the clog. But you’ll need to be very careful to prevent the chemicals from splashing out of the bowl and onto your skin.
If a plunger doesn’t work, then you can try using a toilet auger – also referred to as a snake – which lets you extend a spring device further down into the toilet’s trap to work on the clog.
You may have to consult a professional plumber to help dislodge stubborn clogs, as it could mean that the problem is too far down into your plumbing system to treat with home tools.
Can You Use Drain Cleaner in a Toilet?
Chemical drain cleaners – like Liquid-Plumbr or Drano – are not safe for use in a toilet, as the harsh ingredients can be abrasive and harmful to your commode and plumbing pipes.
With homes using septic tanks, chemical cleaners can kill good natural bacteria and enzymes crucial for the breakdown and decomposition of human waste.
It’s best to use a natural cleaner for toilets instead of relying on chemical products like Drano. Ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and liquid dish detergent are suitable replacements.
Three types of drain cleaners with unique properties make each type meant for specific drain locations or clogged pipes. You’ll also need to consider your pipe’s age and style.
- Enzymatic – non-corrosive enzyme-producing bacteria that consume clogs every month but take 24 hours to work on soft materials like paper or hair
- Caustic – alkaline chemicals turn clogs like soap scum, food, or grease into a soapy-like product that dissolves with water but not for use in a toilet or in pipes (plastic or metal) that are more than 20 years old.
- Acidic – made with hydrochloric or sulfuric acid to remove heavy-duty clogs like soap, grease, food, hair, and paper in new metal and plastic pipes for showers, tubs, and toilet drains.
Drano Alternatives: How to Unclog Your Toilet
When you’re dealing with a clogged toilet, there are multiple alternatives you can attempt to try and get your toilet back to normal function.
A flange plumber – also called a bell-shaped plunger – is the recommended tool for working on toilet clogs. The shape of a cup plunger is for working on flat drains, such as bathroom sinks.
The flange extending out of the bottom of the funnel-cup plunger works better for fitting over the toilet’s hole to create a strong suction.
To tackle clogged toilets using a plunger, there will need to be at least enough water to cover the plunger’s bottom. Add some water if there isn’t enough to do so.
You will need to use some muscle strength when working the plunger up and down. The pull upwards is as crucial as the downward push. But be sure you keep enough distance to prevent splashback on your skin if you’ve put chemicals into your toilet bowl.
If the plunger doesn’t break the clog loose, it’s time to move on to another tool. Plumbers always recommend the use of a toilet auger – also called a drain snake.
You can buy a drain snake at any hardware or home improvement store for less than $30, and it doesn’t need any special training to use. When shopping for a toilet auger, look for models that have rubber around the corkscrew at the end to prevent scratching of the porcelain.
The coiled spring at the end of the toilet extends down into the toilet to push obstructions down the drain. The longer length of augers makes it easier to tackle clogs deeper in the toilet trap (up to three feet) that plungers can’t get.
If you don’t have a drain snake handy, you can use a metal clothes hanger. Unwind the hanger and straighten it out, leaving the hook curved.
Then, wrap the hook with a rag, so it doesn’t scratch your porcelain toilet. Push the wire down the drain, angling it until you feel the clog. Move the hanger around until the water starts draining. Finally, flush the commode a few times to ensure the clog is free, and everything is clear.
Pro Tip: If you’ve never used a toilet auger before, check out this demonstrative video which shows you how to use a drain snake.
Baking Soda and Vinegar
If plungers and augers don’t work – or you don’t have one – you can also try removing clogs in a toilet using powerful natural, non-toxic cleaners like vinegar and baking soda.
Both vinegar and baking soda are powerful cleaners, and they do a great science fair project when combined. But they’re also incredible for removing clogged toilets.
Start by pouring one cup of baking soda into the toilet. Then, after waiting two to five minutes, pour in two cups of vinegar – slowly.
Once the vinegar hits the baking soda, a chemical reaction will occur that forms bubbles, which is why this mixture is so common for school volcano projects.
Watch how the bubbles rise as you add the vinegar to prevent the mixture from splashing or overfilling the toilet bowl. Then let the mixture sit and bubble for multiple minutes.
Finally, flush the commode to check if the clog is free. If the toilet does not create a suction sound and drain properly, the clog may still be there and require a second treatment.
Dish Detergent and Hot Water
Another home remedy to treat clogs in a toilet instead of using Drano is with dish liquid (or shampoo). For example, while heating one gallon of water on the stove, add dish detergent to the toilet bowl and let it sit.
Once the water is hot (but not boiling), transfer the water to the toilet bowl. Be careful not to get the water on your skin to prevent burns.
Give the hot water ten to fifteen minutes to react with the dish soap, which should make the clog soften enough to slide down the drain.
Household bleach can also tackle clogs while cleaning your toilet bowl of harsh stains. But you have to be cautious when using bleach, as it can interact with chemical cleaners you may have used or will use, causing toxic fumes.
If you’ve already added Drano to your toilet, or you use Drano Max as a preventative measure, you’ll want to avoid using bleach to treat a toilet clog. This is because the ammonia in Drano should not come in contact with bleach.
But if bleach is your first option for treating clogs, it’s one of the most effective non-chemical methods to treat major clogs.
You use the same process as dishwashing soap, except you’ll substitute the soap for 2 to 3 cups of natural bleach.
Let the bleach sit for a minute or two, then add one cup of powdered soap. Then give the mixture ten to fifteen minutes to soak before flushing your toilet. If the toilet still does not flush properly, it may be a more serious problem further down in your piping.
You can also add natural enzymes to your toilet bowl, clean your plumbing system by breaking down dead organic wastes with naturally occurring bacteria and enzymes.
Bio-Clean is a blend of four types of natural enzymes and bacteria that eliminate waste buildup without creating toxic fumes or causing damage to your pipes.
Once you add Bio-Clean powder to your system, it immediately starts working to break down the clog by converting the waste particles into water, mineral ash, and carbon dioxide.
These particles easily wash away through your water system. But, despite starting to work at once, it will still take hours (preferably overnight) to tackle major plumbing clogs in the toilet.
Drano Max Build-Up Remover
While we don’t recommend using Drano as a method of treating and removing clogs in a toilet, we can suggest that you use Drano Max Build-Up Remover as a preventative method for your commodes.
This formula is the only type of Drano that you can use in a toilet. But it’s only for when your commode is running slow – not clogged completely. The microorganisms in Drano Max work slowly to break down organic matter that’s restricting regular water flow.
You can use Drano Max Build-Up Remover every four weeks to prevent future clogs with little effort. Add four ounces of this product into your toilet before bed, or you leave the house, flush, and let the chemicals go to work.
Once added to your toilet and flushed once, your toilet shouldn’t get flushed again for six to eight hours to give the chemicals time to work.
Does Drano Damage Pipes?
Because Drano contains caustic ingredients, it can be highly corrosive to your home’s plumbing system. Depending on the age and materials of your pipes, you might get lucky and experience minor to no damage; or you might have catastrophic results.
Drano works so well because it sits on top of a clog until it’s broken loose. Then, while it remains in the pipes, it continues to generate heat and increase in temperature.
This intense heat can cause cracks to form in porcelain toilet bowls and traps. And if the block is further down in your pipes, Drano can cause major issues.
If you have PVC pipes (plastic), continued exposure to high heat can cause the pipes to soften, potentially deform, and eventually break.
For older pipes with corrosion, Drano poses the risk of decomposing the glue bonding the lines together. It can also deteriorate older pipes, causing major structural compromise.
Causes of Toilet Blockage
Understanding common causes of clogged or blocked toilets can help you decide which method to remove a toilet blockage.
- Clogged sewer line (requires a plumber as none of these methods will treat)
- Tree roots growing into your sewer line (you’ll have to cut out the roots and replace the piping – typically requires professional treatment)
- Significant toilet paper buildup
- Flushing products that aren’t degradable
- Flushing heavy paper (paper towels, baby wipes)
- Feminine products
- Toys (largest cause of clogged toilets in households with small children)
So, we’ve covered how to treat clogs without using Drano and what you should do if you’ve already made the boo-boo of adding Drano to your toilet. And we’ve looked at the major causes of toilet clogs.
But what can you do to reduce the chances of experiencing clogged toilets? First, make sure no one in the house flushes large quantities of toilet paper at one time. Doing so is begging for clogged piping.
Next, make sure that no one flushes anything not intended for toilet use. Children are apt to experiment with flushing toys into the abyss of the unknown depths of the toilet swirl. Other risks include jewelry, feminine products, plastic, trash, cans, or paper cups.
You’ll also want to make sure no one flushes heavy paper products, such as paper towels, baby wipes, makeup wipes, tissues, cardboard toilet paper rolls, diapers, tampon applicators (paper or plastic), or feminine pads.
And finally, you can treat your toilet and plumbing system with products like Drano Max Build-Up Remover or other natural products that introduce healthy microorganisms into the plumbing system to treat buildup.
While Drano has long been a favorite for treating clogged drains and pipes in the kitchen and bathroom, the company and most plumbers recommend that you not use it for treating clogs in your toilet.
The caustic chemicals in Drano can cause damage to the porcelain toilet bowl or trap or older pipes made of PVC or rusted metal. So instead of using Drano for unclogging your toilet, try our other removal recommendations mentioned above. And if none of these work, it’s time to call in a professional.